Dysert-O’Dea has been described as “the most archaeologically fertile area in Western Europe”.
O’Dea Castle, a restored C15th Tower House, is now the Clare Archaeology Centre, featuring a museum of local artefacts, an audio-visual presentation, a bookshop and tearoom. (Photo – www.docbrown.info)
A 3km archaeology & history trail around the castle takes in no less than 25 ancient sites, from ring forts and high crosses to a fulacht fiach / cooking pit. A further 5km walk along a medieval road leads to another stone fort.
Saint Tola founded a monastery here in the C8th. The church, noted for its fine Romanesque doorway, dates from the late C12th / early C13th, as does the ornately carved high cross known as the White Cross of St Tola. The remains of a 12m-high round tower stand nearby. (Photo – www.goireland.com)
The Battle of Dysert O’Dea took place on May 10th 1318, during the Irish Bruce Wars (1315-1318), when several simmering disputes that had little to do with the invading Scots broke out around the country.
Conor O’Dea, chieftain of the Cineal Fearmaic, was attacked by Richard de Clare of Bunratty, a direct descendant of Strongbow, grandson of the 5th Duke of Gloucester, and ally of Mahon O’Brien, a supporter of Brian O’Brien, whose faction of the clan had been fighting for supremacy of Thomond for several generations. The O’Deas were heavily reinforced by followers of Muircheartach / Murtough O’Brien, the “rightful” king of Thomond, including the O’Connors, O’Hehirs and MacNamaras.
The attackers were ambushed, Richard de Clare was felled with an axe, and his troops soon defeated, with many foot soldiers and over 80 men of noble birth killed. The victors marched on Bunratty Castle, only to find that De Clare’s wife Joan had set the entire settlement aflame and returned to England. Thomond remained unconquered for over 200 years.
Lough Rath / Lake Ratha is the scenic location of Rath Castle, a C15th Tower House badly damaged by Cromwellian troops in 1650, and Rath Blathmach church, a medieval edifice on the site of a monastic centre of learning founded in the 6th AD by Saint Blathmac. The inner south wall of the roofless nave features a peculiarly frog-faced Sheela-na-Gig. (Photo –www.docbrown.info)
Corrofin & Killinaboy (Co. Clare / West)
Corofin / Corrofin (Cora Finne – “the Weir of Finn”, i.e. Fionn Mac Cumhail) (pop. 500), on the River Fergus in the heart of the Clare lakelands, is known as “the Gateway to the Burren“. There are several good pubs, eateries and accommodation options in and around the village.
Corofin’s main steet (Photo by Ceiniog)
The earliest mention of Corofin refers to the C12th. The settlement developed to service the O’ Brien barony of Inchiquin. The Petty Census of 1659 recorded a population of 92 people, including two English. A small Huguenot colony was established here in 1694.
Corofin House was the Dowager residence of Máire Ruadh O’Brien after her son took over Leamaneh Castle. Her grandson Lucius later lived in the building with his wife, Catherine Keightley, a cousin of sisters Queen Mary and Queen Anne. Corofin House was also the birthplace of Sir Frederick Burton (1816-1900), painter and director of the National Gallery, London.
The Clare Heritage & Genealogical Research Centre is housed in the former St Catherine’s church, converted from a barn by Catherine Keightley c.1720; the steeple and vestry were added by 1829, and Church of Ireland services were held here until the 1970s. The churchyard contains the grave of William Blood, murdered by the Terry Alts in 1832. The Centre compiles resources for genealogical research and also has an interesting museum focusing mainly on the Great Famine and other causes of C19th emigration.
The Burren National Park Information Point, occupying part of the Clare H&GR Centre, provides maps ans apps for visitors to the National Park, and is the main stop on a regular bus service that follows a loop around the Park’s main walking trails in season.
Corofin is an ideal spot for anglers. A chain of lakes stretches away to the northeast (Loughs Cullaun, George, Ballyeighter, Muckanagh and Bunny), while the Fergus River flows east through Lough Atedaun, then north-east to Ballyteigue Lake before turning south into Lough Dromore.
Corofin Traditional Music Festival is held in the second week of March every year.
Ballyportry Castle, an imposing late C15th O’Brien Tower House, fell into disrepair and disuse in the C18th, but is known to have sheltered a poor family in 1808. Acquired in the 1960s by New York architect, Robert Owen Brown, who lovingly restored it to its current glory, the castle can be rented as self-catering holiday accommodation for up to 10 guests and is also available for events such as weddings etc.
Lough Inchiquin is a beautiful lake, often referred to as the “Killarney of Clare”. Thinly disguised as “Inchicrag”, this was the setting for An Angler’s Paradise (1929) the classic flyfishing memoir by FD Barker, an anglicised American who moved from London to live in a cottage in what was then a remote and primitive region.
Inchiquin Castle, a Tower House situated on a peninsula on the northern side of the lake, was probably built by Teige-an-Chomhaid O’Brien (d.1466), and is called after the original O’Quin stronghold of Inchiquin on O’Quin’s Island.
The titles Baron and Earl of Inchiquin derived from this estate. In 1542 the castle belonged to Turlough, son of Murrough O’Brien, 1st Baron of Inchiquin. The 4th baron, another Murrough O’Brien, was in possession in 1580.
When Red Hugh O’Donnell launched his attack on north Clare noblemen in 1600, the castle was attacked and captured by his lieutenant Maguire of Fermanagh.
Murrough MacDermod O’Brien (1614–1674), 6th Baron Inchiquin, aka Murchadh na dTóiteán (“of the conflagrations” – extensive burnings of Irish Catholics and their land and dwellings) was a prominent military commander in Ireland during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, first for the English Parliament, which appointed him President of Munster, then as a Royalist commander during the Cromwellian re-conquest. In 1654 he was created Earl of Inchiquin in the Peerage of Ireland. Exiled in France until the Restoration of King Charles II, he briefly served as French Governor of Catalonia. His brother Christopher O’Brien lived here throughout the period.
Murrough’s son, Colonel John O’Brien, the 2nd Earl, abandoned Inchiquin towards the end of the C17th, and served as governor of English Tangier and as Governor of Jamaica. The 5th Earl, who was created Marquess of Thomond in the Peerage of Ireland in 1800, with remainder to his brother the Hon. Edward O’Brien. The marquessate and earldom of Inchiquin became extinct in 1855. However, the 3rd and last Marquess’s distant relative Sir Lucius O’Brien, 5th Bart, became the 13th Baron of Inchiquin. The current 18th Lord Inchiquin also holds the Gaelic title of The O’Brien, Chief of the Name, Prince of Thomond.
Part of the old castle tower can still be seen, and a good portion of the annexed mansion known as the “banquet hall” remains intact.
Killinaboy derives its name from Cill Iníne Baoith – “the church of the daughter of Baoth”.
Killinaboy church, built in the C16th on the site of an earlier church and repaired in 1715, is now a ruin. There is a curious Sheela-Na-Gig over the doorway. The double-barred cross on the gable is unusual in Ireland.
De Clare’s House is the name given by locals to an ivy-clad turret and bawn on the bank of the River Fergus.
Roughan Hill was long the location of the so-called Tau Cross, aka the Killinaboy Cross, a monument shaped not so much like the Greek letter with mystic associations as a Gaelic T or shallow Roman Y; the curved crossbar depicts two human faces. Although some like to imagine it is very ancient, the cross was most probably a medieval termon / boundary mark. The original, carved from a single piece of carboniferous limestone, was moved for safekeeping to the small museum in the Clare Heritage Centre in Corofin, and has been replaced in situ by a replica. Ireland’s best-known Tau Cross is on Tory Island off the northern coast of County Donegal; a 1993 report claimed that another had been unearthed in Dalkey, Co. Dublin.
Leamaneh / Lemanagh / Lemaneagh Castle, (from Léim an Eich / Fheidh – “Leap of the horse /deer”), stands in splendid ruins at a crossroads on the old Sir Donat’s road linking Corefin and Kilfenora, now the R476. (Photo – Teo Romera / Sarah777)
The original grim Tower House, erected c. 1480, was surrendered to the Crown in 1543 and regranted to the last Gaelic Prince of Thomond, Murrough O’Brien, who was created Baron Inchiquin and Earl of Thomond. In 1551 he bequeathed Leamaneh and Dromoland castles to his third son, Donough MacMurrough O’Brien, hanged for rebellion in 1582.
The fortified dwelling was extended c.1645 into an elegant four-story mansion by Col. Conor O’Brien, an officer in the Kilkenny Confederacy army, with money provided by his wife and cousin, Máire (née McMahon) the rich widow of Daniel O’Neylan of Dysart O’Dea Castle, who had died young in mysterious circumstances.
Known as Máire Ruadh / Maura Ru / Rua (Red Mary) for her flaming hair, she inspired many conflicting legends and tales. Said to have joined her husband on raids against English settlers, she notoriously refused him admittance when he returned seriously injured from the 1651 Siege of Inchicronan Castle, on the grounds that she believed he was dead. Eventually he was allowed in but died shortly afterwards, allegedly by her hand. Either to improve her position or to prevent the land from being seized from her son and heir, Máire then married a Cromwellian officer, John Cooper, believed to have been another of her murder victims. According to one version of her death, she was decapitated by a low tree branch while riding, and her severed head was said to have been thrown ito a hollow trunk. She was apparently hated by the tenantry, but is nowadays regarded as something of a proto-feminist icon.
Her son, Sir Donat / Donough O’Brien, 1st Baronet of Leaghmenagh, for whom the adjacent road was named, improved the gardens, added a canal and lined the carriage drive with trees before departing in 1705 for Dromoland Castle. Leamaneh gradually fell into dereliction.
In 1902 Lucius William O’Brien, 15th Baron Inchiquin, moved the impressive gates to the entrance of the walled garden at Dromoland Castle, and a fine stone fireplace was relocated to the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis.
Tullagh Earth Fort, still encircled by a fosse, is a good example of its type.